Running People Over (or This Time I’m the Bad Guy)

going with friends to find an apt. for grad school
going with friends to find an apt. for grad school

I didn’t see the girl until she hit my windshield. Then I saw nothing but the girl. In the split second that lasted a lifetime, I saw that she wasn’t dead. Panic speared through my chest. I got out of my car. I didn’t feel the rain.

“Are you okay? Oh my god.” Traffic moved around us. It was after 5 pm in February in the midwest. “Oh my god. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

She stood up straight. Her eyes were wide. “I’m okay.”

“I’ll take you to the hospital,” I said. “I’m really sorry.” There is no blood, but she holds her arm close to her. “I didn’t see…” I shut up. She didn’t need to hear my excuses. We were in an intersection. I was making a right turn on a red light. There were no cars coming, but she had been standing on the other sign of the walk/don’t walk pole. “What do you want? I do anything. Can I take you to the hospital? Home?”

She shook her head. “I’m okay. You can…you can take me home.”

I help her into my car. “You sure you don’t want to see a doctor? I’ll pay. I’m sorry.” I said this again and again as if saying it enough times would keep me from throwing up. I couldn’t believe I’d hit someone with my car.

I dropped her off. She told me not to walk her to the door. She gave me her name and all that information and I gave her mine. She said she’d call me if she went to a doctor. I told her she probably should go, but who was I to make her do anything? I could’ve killed her.

Later, when I picked myself up off the floor of my apartment, I called the police to file a report. She’d already called them. She’d gone to the ER the police told me. She had bruises and pulled muscles, but nothing serious, they said. Except for being hit by a car, I thought. What if I’d been driving faster?

Writing something hurtful about a loved one isn’t exactly like hitting someone with your car–or maybe it is. And maybe you write something hurtful on accident because you aren’t paying attention. Maybe you’re a psychopath who likes knocking people down and backing over them.

All I wanted to do that evening was get home after two hours in a horrible grad school class. But getting home wasn’t worth possibly killing someone. What is it worth to get to the truth when you have a story to tell? Are there people out there worth stepping on the gas for?

7 thoughts on “Running People Over (or This Time I’m the Bad Guy)

  1. Short answer: no, there are no people out there worth stepping on the gas for. But there are lots of people like that up here, in my head. And I sometimes import real people into my head in order to do the equivalent of pointing the car at them and stepping on the gas. (But I try really hard not to do that in print.)

    You (well, the narrator :)) did a great job handling the situation described here.

  2. I used to think there were people whom I would “expose” for the horrible, scary things they did to me. I would expose their monstrousness and burn the mask of normalcy they wore in public. Then, time passed and I grew older and more circumspect. I realized that outing a specific person or persons would do no good. Firstly, they wouldn’t care. So much time had passed and I had had so many issues resulting from the PTSD they caused that they would brush me off and do their best to invalidate my claims of abuse thus possibly harming me further. Secondly, as a writer, the audience relates more to generically identified sources of pain and humiliation. By making the story less about destroying one person, I am able to touch the hearts of more readers and let them know they are not alone. Make sense?

    But, oh, I still desire revenge at certain moments and then I remember that the best revenge is a life well-lived. Not only is my life well-lived, the icky people have no part in it. They do not know of my beautiful sons, they did not go to my wedding nor have the opportunity to watch my marriage morph and change into something they were never able to achieve – a marriage of best friends who deeply cherish one another. I like to imagine them mourning the loss of my life and wondering if somewhere they have grandchildren, nephews, or cousins whom they have never seen open a Christmas present. That is my passive-aggressive version of stepping on the gas. It is also the reason I will never join Facebook. I do not want to be found.

    JES is right, you handled the situation described above perfectly. The ending could have been so much worse and I breathed a sigh of relief that both of you were ok.

  3. I don’t want you to think by my silence that I’m judging you. I haven’t known what to say because I don’t know how to get past similar feelings about my own past. I appreciate the courage it took to write this post.

  4. To answer your question about writing, I think that being afraid of hurting people is what holds me back in writing what I really want to write about. I heard a (very kind) writer once say to write it anyway, but there are just some things I can’t do. Especially when I know the person would freak out.

    But I also have to add my stories to your story. And, by the way, I really feel for you. It was an accident. Anybody could have done it, and you handled it well. But I know how awful you must have felt. You are courage to write it down.

    Anyway, I was hit by a car in Japan. I was meeting my friend to take a long walk, and I saw her just as I was crossing the entrance way to a shopping center. I didn’t look to see if any cars were pulling out, and I think I had my hair down too, blocking my vision. I was looking at my friend and probably waving….not thinking. All of a sudden I felt as if someone sweeps a huge chair under my knees, and I’m flung back onto the hood of the car. (I really don’t know how I got hit at that angle and not from the side.) I slide down the hood like a slide and onto the ground. The guy had stopped immediately and got out of his car, and I’m sure that not only was he horrified that he hit somebody, but he hit a gaijin!!! My friend ran up, and I stood up. I felt totally okay, and I knew I wasn’t hurt. Like I said, the way I was hit…by some divine grace…was very gentle, like being thrown back into a chair. The guy didn’t speak English, but we told him in broken Japanese that I was okay and that he could go. I just said, “Don’t do it again!” And he nodded like he understood completely. I think he was more freaked out than me, and I felt bad for him.

    And I know this isn’t quite the same as hitting a person, but once when I was a teenager (daydreaming about a guy no doubt) I ran over a dog, and worse than that, while the little boy who owned the dog was watching. The owners were driving home one evening, and these two dogs got out, and they saw their owners and ran toward them….and one of them under my car along the way. I was so horrified. The child was screaming/crying. The father rightfully seemed angry and told me to just go (which was a relief), but I felt horrible, and I still hate to think about it. So, I can empathize with your story and how bad you must of felt. What can we do? We make mistakes. Luckily they didn’t destroy our lives and perhaps they made us better drivers, keeping us from doing something worse in the future.

    Is this the longest comment I’ve ever written or what?

  5. Thank you, Sherri. Good luck on getting past whatever it is and getting to a good place.

    Oh Shelli, I think I read somewhere a little about you getting hit by that car. I felt a pang of guilt when I read it. And hitting someone’s dog–how terrible. I feel for you. Maybe we are better drivers. I certainly take pedestrians very seriously. Once my son pretended to jump in front of an oncoming car and I went ballistic–touched a nerve of course. Thanks for lone comment, too!

  6. I hate to differ. Okay, I don’t, I like to differ depending on who I’m differing with. I think that being afraid to write something that may hurt someone else is a set up for writers block. People will see themselves in your writing whether you intended to put them there or not. Those who love and support you won’t care, those who don’t will criticize, accuse, and in some cases threaten.

    If we modify our writing, editing ourselves before we’ve even begun, we run the risk of not writing the truth as it needs to be told. Does that mean exposing our enemies and running the risk of revenge? Not deliberately. These have to be characters in a work of fiction. Otherwise we are writing a memoir and it should be labeled as such.

    I think rev ving the engine and gunning for someone can be theraputic so long as the names and essential details are changed to protect the guilty from hiring a lawyer.
    Kim J.

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